Donald Trump is taking a troubled brand — the Republican Party — and making it worse.
In last week’s Bloomberg Politics national survey, 60 percent of Americans said they had an unfavorable view of Republicans, the highest level in seven years. Since 2009, when this survey began, a plurality of the public has regarded the party with disfavor, but over the past several months, the gap has widened. Only 33 percent rate Republicans favorably now.
There is a consensus among many Republican strategists, pollsters and politicians that Trump, with his exclusionary politics, harsh oratory and fondness for personal insult, has hurt the party’s image.
“This absolutely is hurting our brand,” says former Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. “The question is how we unravel going forward. I fear the effects could be long-lasting. It’s tragic.”
Some blame the Trump phenomenon on cable and broadcast television networks, saying they have abandoned their standards of newsworthiness to attract the big audiences he commands.
But much more than the media, it was the Republican Party’s behavior during the President Barack Obama years that paved the way for Trump. In several election cycles, it promised to cut taxes, kill Obamacare, reduce regulations and bulk up the military. This agenda, the party claimed, would restore lost jobs and relieve economic insecurity.
To voters who believed this and sent Republicans to Washington, nothing changed. On cultural issues such as gay marriage and some economic ones, liberal ideas carried the day.
Trump has capitalized on this frustration with a message of comprehensive opposition — to immigrants, Washington, Muslims, international trade, Wall Street, “political correctness,” establishment politicians and many others. This has tarnished the party’s brand by limiting its appeal to a hard core of frustrated voters while turning off a larger public with its harshness.
The negative public attitudes pervade every demographic and regional group in the Bloomberg poll. Other surveys show similar results.
A recent CNN poll, for example, showed a steady decline in the public’s estimation of Republicans over the last year. Last August, 54 percent the poll’s respondents rated Republicans unfavorably. By this March, that number had risen 7 percentage points to 61 percent — as negative ratings of Democrats were falling by 3 percentage points.
Republicans see two glimmers of hope. One is the prospect of choosing a candidate with a positive message — certainly not Trump and probably not Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — at the nominating convention in Cleveland in July.
“Ultimately the party will be defined by the presidential nominee and how the campaign is run,” says Whit Ayers, a prominent Republican pollster who supported Sen. Marco Rubio, the once-favored Floridian who dropped out of the race after losing his state’s primary to Trump on March 15.
The other is that Republicans could prevail over Democrats in congressional and state contests even while losing at the top of their ticket.
That could happen, but the surveys suggest otherwise. In contrast to the Republicans, Democrats are looked at quite favorably by the public. In the Bloomberg poll, 51 percent gave Democrats a favorable rating against 43 percent unfavorable, the party’s best numbers in seven years.
And the Republican brand is in trouble across the board. Independents, by a margin of 63 percent to 28 percent, regard Republicans less favorably than the public at large. Geographically, there is a negative majority even in the strongest Republican region, the South. In the Midwest, unfavorable ratings outnumber favorable ones by more than two to one.
Bad feelings toward Republicans have intensified among women, which many polling experts attribute to Trump. By two-to-one margins, women, including married women, where Republicans usually do better, give the party unfavorable marks.
Albert Hunt is a Bloomberg columnist.